Friday, May 2, 2008

Two Sects of Islam

There are two main sects of Islamic beliefs. One is the Sunni and the other is the Shi'a. These two sects make up the Islamic culture. The branch of Sunni Islam is the largest sect in most countries, but in some it is the minority.The split between the Shi'a and the Sunni Muslims is mainly over Caliphs.

When Muhammed died in 632 he left no clear successor. When this was known the Muslims came together to elect a leader, this is called a Caliph. The Caliph was the head of the Muslim throughout the world. They were to lead the army and gave authority to Muslim leaders. Caliph means "successor." (Gordon 32)

They elected Abu Bakr, Mohammed's father in law. Many thought that the next successor should be 'Ali, Mohammed's cousin, who married Fatima, Mohammed's daughter. Those who followed 'Ali were known as the Shi'a Muslims. In 656 'Ali ruled as Caliph, but the Muslims were still separated when it came to how a Caliph should be chosen. Sunni Muslims believe that they should be chosen by election. Shi'a Muslims believed that the Caliphs should be of the 'Ali of Fatima bloodline. (Wilkinson 20)

Now lets understand what the Shiites are all about. The Shi'a Muslims are a sect of Muslims who were the supporters of 'Ali. They wanted many Arabs to be followers too. One thing that many do not know is that Shi'a sect revolts only against the upper Arab class, not all Arabs in general.

The Sunni Muslims are the largest sect of Muslims. They are the followers of Abu Bak'r. Sunni means the "way" or the "example" referring to the example of Mohammad. Abu Bak'r was one of the first to embrace Islam so he is highly revered.
Gordon, Matthew S. Islam:World Religions. New York: Facts on File Inc, 1991.
Wilkinson, Philip. Islam. New York: DK, 2002